(Indian Murgh Makhani, or Butter Chicken - recipe in post.)
One of The Boyfriend's first dinner requests, when I told him he could pick whatever he wanted, was that I make something like the dishes at an Indian restaurant we both like. I could only assume he meant the oh-so-popular Indian dish Murgh Makhani, or Butter Chicken.
Before diving into recipes (having never made it myself) I looked up the restaurant to glean any information I could. What I found out was that they didn't actually use any butter in their butter chicken. Butterless Butter Chicken - I like it!
So I went in search and found that this was not so uncommon - recipes aplenty for butter free Chicken Makhani. In fact, it seems you could make nearly any butter chicken recipe and simply omit the butter... strange, since the ingredient is in the name. Still, I chose to use Bal's No-Butter Chicken recipe, via the Cooking Channel, only slightly adapted.
(Slightly adapted from Bal Arneson)
2 TBSP grapeseed, peanut, or canola oil
1 small red onion or 1/2 of a large, diced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP fresh ginger, grated
2 TBSP tomato paste
2 tsp. whole cumin seeds or 1.5 tsp. ground cumin
1 TBSP garam masala
1/2-1 tsp. red chile flakes (more to taste)
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. salt
1 LB. boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 TBSP dark brown sugar
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup water
Optional: 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
(One common method for butter chicken is to marinate the cubed chicken for at least an hour ahead in the spices, salt, and tomato paste. Feel free to do this if you have the time, but I found it turned out fine without it.)
In a large skillet over medium-high, add the oil. While it's heating up, do some chopping/grating/mincing.
To the pan, add the onion, garlic, and ginger, and cook 3-4 minutes or until the onion has begun to caramelize. Add in the tomato paste, spices, and salt - stir and let cook for 30 seconds - 1 minute to toast the spices.
Add the chicken and brown sugar to the pan, stir to coat, and cook for 3-4 minutes before stirring in the yogurt and water. Let cook another 8-10 minutes, or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and the sauce is thick.
Serve with cooked rice, steamed or sauteed vegetables, naan bread, etc.
I do love me some Indian food!
The smell of those spices hitting the pan is really something. By the time the meal is ready the whole house will smell glorious, sure to draw everyone to the table.
Having flipped through several recipes before choosing this one, I was a little worried that the ingredient list might be on the short side in comparison to other, perhaps more authentic, recipes - but I can assure you, the flavor was by no means lacking!
Obviously, I couldn't make Murgh Makhani without making a batch of garlic Naan bread. If you've never had Naan, you seriously need to drop what you're doing and make some - it's like the most fabulous pita bread in the world. It's like what pita dreams to be when it's little, but then as it grows up it gains a sense of perspective and resigns itself to a life less than perfect.
There are a few different ways to make Naan, both in terms of method and ingredients, but I found that Kulsum over at Journey Kitchen has a wonderful recipe/tutorial that follows all of my favorite things. It's yeasted, and uses Ghee (which is like the incredible love-child between clarified and browned butter, and can be found in most grocer's international section or made at home - awesome tutorial by VegeYum here) - now, Naan doesn't have to be yeasted, but I find the combination of yeast and ghee make a really rich, authentic flavor. Plus, Kulsum suggests the very simple heavy-bottom skillet method, which I also happen to like.
The recipe gave great results - the dough was soft and supple like the Pillsbury Doughboy's bottom, and it bubbled and browned to perfection in the pan.
I kneaded some garlic into the dough, and after cooking it brushed the bread with butter and fresh chopped cilantro. Totally optional, but totally delicious.
Besides the garlic, I followed the recipe as it was written, so rather than plagiarize it here I'll just hit you up with the link: www.journeykitchen.com/2011/08/how-to-make-naan-at-home.html
I asked The Boyfriend if this was what he'd wanted, if it lived up to his expectations in recalling the restaurant, and he firmly stated that it not only outshined that but was the best he'd ever tasted. Foolish of me to think he isn't biased, but I'll take the compliment.
This will definitely be a dish to make again and again. And maybe again right now...